Bonita House Helps Katrina Survivors
October 24, 2005
Days after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast, hope seemed fleeting for the hundreds of thousands of southerners devastated by the storm. By mid-week however, hope was never more forthcoming than in Houston. With the help of dozens of celebrities making unannounced appearances at the Reliant Center area, including Oprah Winfrey and her entourage, the message was sent loud and clear, HELP.
Her message was ‘hope’ as well, and to place an exclamation point after it, she and the crews from CNN, went in search for local relief efforts that would help carry out the message. Bonita House of Hope was showcased during her broadcast and by CNN as well. Two weeks after viewing both shows, Chris Rock and his wife Malaak Compton Rock came to Bonita House and spent the day. They have since “adopted” the facility as one of their charities.
The media coverage after the storm helped pave the way for dozens of homeless victims of Hurricane Katrina to a place in Houston that offers all of the necessities to start over. Bonita House of Hope is a $3.1 million HomeAid Houston project consisting of the Bonita Hope Transitional Housing Complex, a 199 bed complex originally dedicated to the homeless for care and education of women and their children. The facility provides services for residents including drug and alcohol rehabilitation, job training and job placement. The complex also includes a cafeteria and daycare facilities.
As the Bonita House phone number rang continually following the Sept. 6 broadcasts, reaching millions of viewers around the world, the result has been overwhelming. Tyrone Evans, the founder of Bonita House began receiving phone calls from all over the country, even while the broadcasts were airing. “I was getting calls from Kansas, New Jersey, Hawaii and Oklahoma from people wanting to help the victims of Katrina,” said Evans.
One call came in from a social worker from Syosset, New York. Liz Sunshine dialed the Bonita House number and Tyrone Evans happened to pick up. From there things began to snowball. After a 20 minute conversation that ended with Evans in tears, Liz Sunshine abandoned her original plan to host a donations campaign from NY. She and her best friend Amy Rosen boarded a plane and within 24- hours the two were working with Tyrone, and have been ever since. The women from New York have been meeting with hurricane evacuees, counseling them, identifying their needs and coordinating the multiple service organizations that are available. “I have been a social worker for 15 years,” said Sunshine, “and I have never seen anything like this before. These people have lost everything, yet I see them get up off their air mattresses and cots every morning determined to find places to stay and to find new jobs. And they manage to do it with dignity.”
The Bonita House has become a haven for many of the displaced families. Evans has opened available space that to this date is housing 70 families. They are invited to stay for up to a year at no cost. “We have this new facility and a lot of determination,” said Evans. “With the outpouring of volunteers like Liz and Amy, we are giving families new hope for a new life.”
“The new facility would have remained but a dream,” said Evans, “had it not been for tremendous community support”. Grants were received from the City of Houston Housing and Community Development Department and several private foundations including a challenge grant from Houston Endowment, Inc. JP Morgan Chase Bank provided financing.
HomeAid Houston, a charitable arm of the Greater Houston Builders Association, spearheaded construction and raising remaining funds needed. With the support of the builder community including Beazer Homes, Lennar Homes, Davis Bros Construction, Marek Brothers and hundreds of suppliers, vendors, and a few friends, $800,000 worth of time, labor, materials and cash were raised to complete construction. The facility opened officially on May 19, 2005.
“It is almost like Houston has become a headquarters of sorts,” said Kurt Watzek, division president of Beazer Homes Houston. “The city has become a launching pad for the victims of this deadly storm to help get them back on their feet again. Bonita House is the ideal place to allow families to collect themselves and plan for their future.”
According to the City of Houston’s Mayor’s office, as of September 15, approximately 53,000 evacuees were in Houston hotels and rooms. There were approximately 16,000 hotels and rooms filled with evacuees, and there were 25 Red Cross shelters housing 1700 people. Approximately 50,000 evacuees had applied for FEMA and 36,000 had received help from them. The numbers have improved in October, but displaced families are still living in Houston area hotels and shelters waiting for direction, according to the mayor’s office.
Bonita House of Hope is located at 2605 Parker Rd. The phone number is 713-691-0900.